Anxiety and Ties to the Endocrine System
Physical Signs of Anxiety
Your body may be sending you clues that it is time to talk to your doctor about your fears and worries.
Of course we all know that it is impossible to live a stress free life, especially in these times, with the pandemic, political unrest and everything else that is happening in the world. There is more to anxiety than constant worry. Anxiety can also cause physical symptoms. Many of these reactions are not only unpleasant but can also make your anxiety worse.
The symptoms of anxiety can be traced back to the body’s natural response to danger. When we encounter a potential threat, our sympathetic nervous system (known as the fight-or-flight response) automatically kicks in. A flood of stress hormones is released, forcing our muscles to tense, hearts to pound, breath to quicken — and more.
Now the nervous system can’t tell the difference between an actual threat, like a near miss behind the wheel, and an imagined threat, like preparing for a tense conversation. And because of this, the body responds to the two scenarios in similar ways. That is why just thinking about stressful situations can cause physical symptoms.
Here are some of the most common physical signs of anxiety to be on the lookout for — and what to do if you experience them.
Anxiety Sign #1: Shakiness
You have a stress hormone known as cortisol. When you sense a threat — whether it’s real or imaginary — cortisol levels go up. This rise tells your body to release more glucose (also known as sugar) to give you the energy to handle it. Changes in blood sugar can make us feel shaky and queasy.
However, shakiness can have other causes aside from anxiety, such as essential tremor, Parkinson’s disease or simply too much caffeine. If you notice that you’re shaking often, even when you’re not anxious or stressed, you should call us to make an appointment to find out the reason.
Anxiety Sign #2: Rapid Heartbeat
Ever notice how your heart starts to race when you’re in the middle of a stressful situation? That happens because your sympathetic nervous system controls your heart rate, according to information from Harvard Medical School.
Remember, in the face of a fight-or-flight situation, your body churns out cortisol and epinephrine (a stress hormone you might know better as adrenaline). This sets off a chain reaction.
Your heart pumps faster. Next, the rapid heart rate prompts more blood to go out to your muscles so you are able to fight or flee the potential threat. This works if a lion walks into your kitchen, but doesn’t work as well when you are thinking of making a difficult phone call. A quickly beating heart can also lead to more anxious feelings.
Anxiety Sign #3: Digestive Issues
Everyone knows the feeling of butterflies in your stomach. Worry, doubt and fear can sometimes make it seem like a steamroller has taken over your GI tract. In times of stress, your sympathetic nervous system focuses energy and resources to where they’ll be most helpful in the short-term, and pauses anything that isn’t essential.
Since digestion is more of a long-term investment for the body, it tends to slow down or even come to a stop. So, as a result, your digestive tract may empty out quickly, or not much at all, leading to issues like constipation, diarrhea or stomach pain. Since digestive problems can be painful and stressful, this can create a cycle that feeds anxiety and keeps digestive problems going.
Anxiety Sign #4: Unsatisfying Sleep
Do racing thoughts keep you up at night? Anxiety can leave you feeling restless, making it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep, notes the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
On the flip side, sleep struggles can cause more anxiety, creating a continuous cycle. In fact, people with chronic insomnia (one of the most common sleep problems) face a high risk of developing an anxiety disorder, notes the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
Anxiety Sign #5: Tense, Achy Muscles
The same stress response that revs you up also tells your muscles to tighten and brace for an attack. Tension headaches (mild to moderate pain that feels like having a tight band around your head) are common among people with anxiety, according to the ADAA. It is also common to feel tension and soreness in the shoulders, neck and jaw.
Anxiety Sign #6: Sweating
Stress and anxiety can make you sweat more than usual, especially your palms, face, armpits and the soles of your feet. This is partly thanks to hormones like epinephrine and norepinephrine, which get a boost any time your body senses danger.
Here is what happens: You start to worry. That worry causes your heart rate to speed up and the blood vessels in your skin to tighten. Next, your body temperature goes up, which leads to sweating as your body tries to cool itself down. This is known as nervous sweating, and most of us have experienced this at one time or another.
How to Handle Anxiety
Feeling anxious from time to time is completely normal. However, if your anxiety gets to a level where it is causing a lot of problems or making it hard to get through your day, it is time to get help.
Make an appointment with us at Palmetto Endocrinology to rule out endocrine issues that may be to blame for the physical symptoms that you’re experiencing. If all signs point to anxiety, we can refer you to a mental health professional about treatment options.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for anxiety, notes the NIMH. Your doctor will take a look at your symptoms and lifestyle and help you find a mix of treatments that are right for you. These might include talk therapy, prescription medications or support groups.
Activities that relieve stress might also be helpful to add into your day. Restorative or gentle yoga, tai chi, spending time with loved ones, being out in nature and enjoying hobbies are all great options.
Anxiety isn’t going to completely go away, but with some help and effort, you can find ways to help reduce its impact on your life.